A Franck Ribéry-inspired Bayern Munich bounced back from their midweek Champions League humiliation in Switzerland by comfortably defeating a feeble Schalke side. The visitors offered next to nothing from first to last, with all their big name players struggling to get involved. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, on the other hand, will be absolutely delighted by the performance of his players, who showed some of the urgency they have lacked over the last few weeks. His one regret, though, will be the fact that the 2010 Bundesliga champions missed the chance to make their goal difference advantage over league-leaders Dortmund even greater than it currently is (plus four). With Borussia Mönchengladbach drawing against Hamburg on Friday night, this win moves Bayern back up to second spot: one point behind Jürgen Klopp’s side, who face Hannover later this afternoon. Schalke, meanwhile, will just be thankful that Werder Bremen lost at home to Nuremberg yesterday afternoon – thereby ensuring that the Gelsenkirchen outfit remain seven points clear in the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Manuel Neuer; Rafinha, Jérôme Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm; Luis Gustavo, David Alaba; Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Ribéry; Mario Gómez
Schalke (4-4-2 from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Benedikt Höwedes, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Christoph Metzelder, Christian Fuchs; Jefferson Farfán, Joël Matip, Marco Höger, Julian Draxler; Raúl, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
The game started in a lively fashion, aided by a number of fantastic through-balls (Draxler’s effort in the ninth minute a particularly good one), and some lapses of concentration in defence. Early on, Raúl had a chance at one end, before Hildebrand pulled off three top-notch saves in the space of 40 seconds. Whereas Bayern started short from Neuer, trying to draw Schalke’s attackers onto them in a bid to create space in the middle of the park, Hildebrand went long from his goal-kicks, with both sides ensuring that a melee ensued whenever the ball dropped by making their formations as compact and centrally-standing as possible.
Out of possession, Schalke worked extremely hard in the opening 15 minutes, frustrating their hosts. Rather than pressing Badstuber and Boateng as they passed the ball from side to side, the visitors sat off in their three banks, staying as close together as was feasible in a bid to eliminate any corridors in which Bayern might have worked in. With the wingers standing infield, further eradicating any space in the middle of the park, Bayern were forced to try and get in behind their guests by going through the wingers. However, both Robben and Ribéry are inverted wingers, doing their best work when cutting inside. Thus, forced to go down the chalk, Fuchs, in particular, had a particularly easy job in stopping the former – and Bayern – in their tracks.
Despite impressively corking the hosts’ attempts to get near Hildebrand’s box, let alone goal, Schalke were struggling to do anything of note on the break as we approached the 20-minute mark. Alaba and Gustavo weren’t holding back in their wave-breaking duties, and with the away side’s midfield having to start from so deep, Huub Stevens’ two strikers were generally too isolated on the rare occasion the ball got beyond Heynckes’ Brazilian and Austrian double-act. Although Raúl started to drop deeper in a bid to instigate some quickfire one-twos, Schalke still lacked penetration, and Huntelaar’s frustration was highlighted by the fact he and Boateng seemed to wind up in a niggly duel whenever the ball was there to be won.
The Bayern attackers, meanwhile, were at least winning a number of free-kicks, although the less said about the standard of delivery the better. Fuchs went into the book after being caught out by the surprise overlap of Rafinha in the 20th minute, while five minutes later, Höger needlesly lunged into Gustavo after a heavy touch to join the set-piece specialist in referee Michael Weiner’s book. As we neared the half-hour mark, Schalke’s energy levels appeared to have dropped – the 120 minutes of football they completed against Viktoria Plzeň less than 64 hours ago perhaps starting to take its toll. The player looking most likely to instigate an opener was the swashbuckling Lahm, who was constantly cutting in to great effect before initiating sharp one-two moves or defence-splicing through-passes. Unfortunately for the Munich-born 28-year-old, Gómez was looking off the pace, and unable to take advantage of his colleague’s fantastic work.
At this point in the game, Robben and Müller had swapped positions. With the Dutchman playing in the hole and the full-backs now asking more questions of the tiring Schalke widemen, the Bavarians looked far more threatening. However, in the 35th minute, Matip came so close to handing the visitors a surprise lead – heading a Farfán corner towards the bottom corner, only for Neuer to just about get his body in the way. The away side retained possession by taking control of the loose ball, only for Höger to be caught dithering by the combative Gustavo. The Brazilian wasted no time with the ball at his feet, scooping upfield towards Ribéry. The Frenchman chased it down, and with Hildebrand having taken the decision to zoom out of his box, the Bayern attacker had to knock the ball over the salmon-like leap of the ‘keeper when the pair came face to face. Despite Papdopoulos’ pace enabling him to get back and across to protect the box, Ribéry had a half-second advantage over the 20-year-old defender from Greece, allowing him to pass the ball into the empty net for 1-0!
It should have been 2-0 two minutes later, but for an incredible miss by Badstuber. A cleared corner was perfectly swung back into the box by Ribéry. Gómez back-headed the ball towards goal, where Müller was positioned to slide-volley it out of Hildebrand’s reach. However, the former Hoffenheim ‘keeper pulled off a superb save, only to see the ball head towards Badstuber, who was standing all alone on the right-hand post. However, perhaps the 22-year-old was taken by surprise, because, somehow, he managed to volley the ball back across goal and wide!
Bayern continued to cause havoc for the remainder of the first 45 minutes, with Lahm and Robben at the heart of things. However, either side of a Fuchs bullet-shot which whistled over the bar, Müller wasted two glorious opportunities to put the ball on a plate for one of his six-yard box-heading colleagues; first pulling it when a square was needed, and then overhitting a cross in the last action of the half. As a result of his side failing to bag another goal or two when they were on top and their guests were going through the motions, Heynckes must have trudged off to the dressing room, wondering, ‘will we rue not putting this game to bed?’
Second half starting formations
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Lahm; Gustavo, Alaba; Robben, Müller, Ribéry; Gómez
Schalke (4-4-2 from right to left): Hildebrand; Höwedes, Papadopoulos, Metzelder, Fuchs; Farfán, Matip, Höger, Draxler; Raúl, Huntelaar
Neither coach had made either a personnel or formational change at half-time, although given how much of a bang the second period started with, it seemed that all 22 players had been at the sugar and protein during the interval. Firstly, Badstuber nearly atoned for his earlier miss by heading against the crossbar from a Robben corner. Then, breaking from the hosts’ set-piece, Farfán was fed down the right. He stopped his run, before squaring to Draxler. The 18-year-old played a sumptuous through-ball to Matip, of all people, who homed in on goal with the ball. Neuer was off his line, and did well to narrow the angle, but the Cameroonian’s finish was tame, and curled wide.
A few minutes later, and Bayern had again gone close, this time through the more likely figures of Robben and Gómez – both chances being created by Ribéry, who was absolutely unstoppable in the opening ten minutes of the new half. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the sluggish latter wasted his chance by taking too many touches when rounding Hildebrand, while Robben’s chance was a header – not exactly the former Real Madrid and Chelsea player’s deadliest weapon. But, in the 55th minute, Ribéry got his and Bayern Munich’s second. Confidently carrying the ball down the left at three-quarter pace, the 28-year-old – who snubbed a handshake offer from Heynckes when being substituted against Basel earlier this week – played a one-two with Müller, getting the ball back through the right-hand side of the box. Cutting inside and removing the embarrassingly un-agile and easily duped Metzelder out of the way, the Frenchman curled the ball into the bottom left-hand corner for 2-0, aided by the recovering Papadopoulos slipping over as he tried to make a block.
Needing to inject some life into his limp Schalke side (it’s incredible to think that we’ve all mistaken them for genuine title contenders in recent weeks), Stevens replaced Draxler with Chinedu Obasi. In the 65th minute, Stevens made a less like-for-like change, replacing Matip with the more attack-minded midfielder Lewis Holtby. In the 15 minutes played after the second goal, Schalke nigh-on monopolised possession, as Bayern sat back and had a breather. The visitors’ full-backs were fully involved, allowing Obasi and Farfán to carry the ball/look for space infield or down the chalk. However, with Ribéry and Robben tracking back and mucking in (!), Schalke’s passing too basic or poor to tear holes in the Bayern backline, and the hosts’ formation compact and centre-congesting, Stevens saw his blue-shirted players stuck in the purgatory that is the second-third area of the pitch.
It was absolutely no surprise to see Gómez hauled off in the 72nd minute, Ivica Olić taking his place (a. on the evidence of this performance, the last thing Gómez needs is a midweek international game for Germany against France, and b. Poor old Nils Petersen continues to rot away on the bench). As the game petered to a close, Alaba and Gustavo working exceptionally hard to ensure that this was the case, Stevens made one last change, replacing Metzelder with Atsuto Uchida – a switch designed to belatedly help in corking the visitors’ right-hand side, with Höwedes moving to left-sided centre-back, and the Japanese international playing at right-back. Heynckes, meanwhile, saw the game out in a Christmas tree system, replacing Müller – whose last contribution was a neat scooped through-ball to Robben, who volleyed at Hildebrand – with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. The Ukrainian barely had time to touch the ball, though, with Weiner playing just 60 seconds of injury time. Bayern travel to Heynckes’ former club Bayer Leverkusen next weekend, while Schalke have the less daunting prospect of a trip to Freiburg.
Formations that finished the match
Bayern Munich (4-3-2-1, from right to left): Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Lahm; Gustavo, Tymoshchuk, Alaba; Robben, Ribéry; Olić
Schalke (4-4-2 from right to left): Hildebrand; Uchida, Papadopoulos, Höwedes, Fuchs; Farfán, Holtby, Höger, Obasi; Raúl, Huntelaar